Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts (BA)


Political Science

First Advisor

Ronald Seyb

Second Advisor

Jennifer Delton


In 1975, the city of New York looked out on the precipice of fiscal collapse. Years of borrowing, a fleeting tax base, deindustrialization, and the thinning of federal investment streams left the city short-changed and vulnerable, reliant on banks with waning interest in funding New York’s robust network of social services. [1] The conversations, contestations, and political resolutions that followed would reshape and remake the politics of a city that had, for four decades, represented a beacon of “social democracy.” [2] New York ultimately surrendered its commitment to urban liberalism and embraced a neoliberal politics of austerity, mirroring shifts taking place on the national level. Major politicos of the Right, particularly Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan, capitalized on the moment to portray the New Deal style of politics, defined by “promises and programs, subsidies and studies, welfare and make work,” as inert and inept in the face of crisis. [3] Yet the rise of austerity politics was not merely the result of developments on the Right, but the erosion and splintering of the New Deal order – order being defined as “a constellation of rules, institutions, practices, and ideas that hang together over time; a bundle of patterns.” [4] In the years preceding the fiscal crisis, critical events fractured the foundational coalitions and conceptions of New York politics, thus facilitating a reordering of city, state, and nation. [5] This thesis draws upon the scholarship of American Political Development to explain the historical and political construction of these changing tides and grapples with their long-term impact on political life.

[1] Kim Phillips-Fein, Fear City: New York’s Fiscal Crisis and the Rise of Austerity Politics (New York: Picador, 2017).

[2] Joshua B. Freeman, Working Class New York: Life and Labor Since World War II (New York: The New Press, 2000), 334-335.

[3] Ronald Reagan, “President’s Remarks at the Westway Highway Project Ceremony” (speech, New York City, September 7, 1981), Ronald Reagan Presidential Library,

[4] Karen Orren and Stephen Skowronek, The Search for American Political Development (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 14.

[5] Jerald Podair, The Strike That Changed New York: Blacks, Whites, and the Ocean-Hill Brownsville Crisis (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002); Roger Starr, The Rise and Fall of New York City (New York: Basic Books, 1985).